Niles fires teacher accused of misusing sick time

NILES — A teacher was fired from Niles City Schools after being accused of using sick time while he coached golf for another district.

Christopher Chieffo, 45, who earned a base salary of $50,857 as a high school teacher, was terminated Jan. 18 by the Board of Education after being accused of using sick time while he was coaching boys golf for Howland Local Schools during an October tournament. Chieffo had been on administrative leave since Nov. 6.

The resolution regarding Chieffo’s termination says he “knowingly and willingly misused and falsified sick leave” when he used the district’s online reporting system to call off and request sick leave. Paid sick leave may be used for personal illness or injury, illness, injury or death in the immediate family, pregnancy and exposure to contagious disease which could be communicated to others, the resolution states.

“On Oct. 3, 2017, despite Mr. Chieffo’s report of use of sick leave, Mr. Chieffo in fact attended the Division 1 Boys Section Golf Tournament in Alliance, Ohio, where he coached the high school boys golf team for Howland Local School District,” the resolution states. Howland Local Schools Superintendent Kevin Spicher confirmed that Chieffo contracted with Howland Local Schools to coach golf last season.

Niles City Schools Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen declined to comment on Chieffo’s termination or whether this is the only instance in which he misused sick time, and she referred any questions to the district’s attorney, Megan Zidian, who ddidn’t return a call seeking comment.

Chieffo, who was employed with Niles City Schools for a decade, started off as a teacher, according to his personnel file. In 2013, he was promoted to assistant principal of Niles Primary School where he earned $71,000, the file states, until he resigned in June 2017, took a pay cut and returned to teaching middle school social studies.

Chieffo received positive reviews on all of the evaluations that are in his personnel file. However, in October 2016, Chieffo was reprimanded by Thigpen and accused of making inappropriate comments regarding the hiring of a high school principal, according to a letter in his personnel file. Chieffo also had questioned why he wasn’t given a second interview for the principal position, Thigpen wrote in the letter, and he was given instruction on how he needed to improve as an assistant principal.

“My level of concern of your unwillingness to move forward from our meeting in June of 2016 is of great issue to me,” Thigpen wrote in the letter. “Without a significant change in your leadership style I anticipate your staff will begin to disengage, or even worse, mirror your attitude and language. Either outcome is completely unacceptable.”

Chieffo did not return calls seeking comment but Ira Mirkin, a lawyer representing him, said there is a statuatory appeal process and a grievance procedure in Chieffo’s union contract that will be followed.

“This matter is being appealed and will be resolved through the process,” Mirkin said.